The Canucks’ off-season moves have made their intent clear for the upcoming season. The trade for J.T. Miller and free agent signings of Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn, and Micheal Ferland are all indicators that the Canucks see themselves heading back to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
As much as the addition of those four veterans will help, however, the truth is that the Canucks will only go as far as their young core can take them, namely Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Quinn Hughes.
The point projections from NHL.com appear to concur. The league’s website posted point projections for over 200 players for the upcoming season as a tool for those playing fantasy hockey. The projections, put together by Pete Jensen, Rob Reese, and David Satriano, see Elias Pettersson leading the Canucks in scoring with 77 points, while rookie Quinn Hughes leads Canucks defencemen with 45 points.
Pettersson’s projection seems comfortably conservative, while the projection for Hughes is very bullish and bold. 45 points would be the fifth-best season from a rookie defenceman since 2000, ahead of Rasmus Dahlin’s very impressive 44 points last season. That’s a lot to expect from a defencemen that will turn 20 in October.
That projection for Pettersson is definitely cautious, considering he was on-pace for 76 points if he had played all 82 games last season. By that token, 77 points is neither a big step forward nor a sophomore slump, landing at 35th among forwards next season.
When I looked at comparable players in their 20-year-old seasons, the average scoring rate in their 21-year-old season was 28 goals and 71 points over 82 games. At the upper end of that group were players like Patrick Kane and Sebastian Aho, who put up over 80 points in their 21-year-old seasons.
Many Canucks fans are expecting a lot more from Pettersson, and it’s hard to set a ceiling for a player that has made a habit of outperforming expectations. Pettersson’s work ethic has him looking for every edge he can get this off-season and it’s entirely possible that he blows these point projections out of the water.
The projections are similarly conservative about Boeser, which is somewhat understandable, as he’s had some bad luck with injuries in his first couple seasons, making it difficult to be too optimistic heading into his third year. 66 points is 10 better than his total points, but he was on pace for 66 points over 82 games last season.
Horvat has steadily improved his points per game every single season, hitting a career high of 0.74 last season when he had 61 points in 82 games. The point projections from NHL.com, however, see him hitting a plateau. Okay, so 62 points technically is an improvement over last season, but it’s a minimal improvement.
There are reasons to be more bullish about the Ox next season. He should have better wingers, potentially including Tanner Pearson, Sven Baertschi, Micheal Ferland, Josh Leivo, and J.T. Miller, as well as potentially Antoine Roussel when he returns from injury.
On the other hand, his point production by ice time has plateaued over the past couple years and there’s a possibility that he winds up on the second power play unit, which might cut into his power play production. Honestly, 62 points along with some solid two-way play would be a good season for Horvat.
Then there’s J.T. Miller, whose projection puts him in line with his peak years with the New York Rangers. Last season, Miller had 47 points in a somewhat lesser role on the stacked Tampa Bay Lightning. He should get more ice time with the Canucks, so 54 points seems pretty reasonable.
The projection that is the most bold and optimistic is the one for Hughes, as mentioned above. Last season, Hughes had 33 points in 32 games for the University of Michigan in the Big Ten in college hockey. How point projections generally work for prospects is to use NHL Equivalency translation factors, which uses how players have performed in the past when jumping to the NHL from various leagues.
The NHLe from the Big Ten conference has been fairly consistent over the years, coming in at 0.333 in the latest numbers from Rob Vollman of Hockey Abstract. Hughes’ points per game were 1.03 last season. Applying the 0.333 NHLe from the Big Ten gives us a projection of 0.34 points per game in the NHL next season.
That works out to 28 points over 82 games. While 45 points is optimistic, 28 points seems overly pessimistic. My suspicion is that most players that jump to the NHL from the NCAA don’t necessarily get used in offensive roles immediately, particularly on the power play.
For Hughes to reach 45 points, he likely needs to play on the first power play unit, even if he doesn’t start on the first unit on opening night. A top unit with Hughes, Boeser, and Pettersson should allow Hughes to hit that projection and potentially help Boeser and Pettersson exceed their own projections.
Micheal Ferland has had back-to-back seasons with ~40 points with two different teams, so 43 points seems pretty reasonable. It should be noted that Ferland had time on the top power play unit for the Hurricanes, which he might not get with the Canucks, though he should get more time at even-strength.
Finally, there’s the two veteran defencemen: Alex Edler and Tyler Myers.
39 points would be the third-best season of Edler’s career, though that’s primarily because he’s had trouble staying healthy for a full season since 2011-12. I just don’t see him reaching 39 points, particularly if Hughes takes his spot on the top power play unit. We’ll see.
33 points seems about right for Myers if he stays healthy for a full season: he had 36 and 31 points in his last two seasons in Winnipeg. The points should certainly come for Myers; the question is whether his offensive contributions can out-pace his defensive deficiencies at even-strength.
If Myers gets some significant ice time on the power play, I could see him doing a little better than 33 points. Can he get back to 40 points, a mark he hasn’t reached since his rookie season? Maybe. It would likely require him to play and excel on the first power play unit, which would hurt the point totals of Hughes and Edler.
What do you think of these projections? Are they too optimistic, too pessimistic, or just right? And, if these individual players score like these projections suggest, will that be enough to get the Canucks back to the playoffs?